The Art of Detachment – Essential for “Asperger” Relationships

VIDEO CONFERENCE: Why do so many people believe my “Aspie” and not me? Living with a mate who has “Asperger’s Syndrome” is filled with stress. You love them but they are unpredictable. You never know how they’ll react to an ordinary situation. Therefore, it’s not surprising that many NT (neuro-typical) mates report a variety of psychosomatic and immunodeficiency illnesses, such as migraines, arthritis, gastric reflux, and fibromyalgia. When the body is regularly thrown into a state of alarm, the over-production of adrenalin and cortisol wreaks havoc with the body’s natural defense mechanisms.

Recently I wrote an article for PsychCentral on the need to care for yourself first. This may seem impossible at first, because of the chaos of family life. But it is essential and possible if you learn the art of detachment.

Detachment is learning to protect yourself from all of those not-so-ordinary moments. It doesn’t mean you stop caring about your loved ones. It simply means that you:

  • Stop taking it all personally.
  • Stop worrying if you’ve covered all the bases.
  • Stop beating yourself up for your flaws.
  • Stop expecting more from your AS spouse than he or she can give.

When you learn the art of detaching, you actually free up some energy to care for yourself. And that creates the energy to make better decisions instead of flitting from crisis to crisis.

There are two methods for achieving detachment:

1. Emotional self-care is doing all of the healthy feel-good things you can fit into your day. If you notice that you’re drinking, eating, or smoking too much, you need healthier self-care. Make it a point to always plan healing rest and recreation in your day, too.

2.Cognitive self-care consists of education. When you can’t fathom what’s going on with your “Aspie,” and they’re accusing you of things you didn’t do, stress increases. It’s bad enough to be misunderstood. It’s quite another to try to operate without a frame of reference for the misunderstanding. Even though it’s work to read a book and to attend psychotherapy, knowledge is power.

When I was learning to deal with family members with ASD, there weren’t that many resources. So I founded a Meetup group, Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD. It has helped many cope as they connect with others living through the same experiences. Check it out and if it feels right for you, please hit the “join” button.

29 Replies to “The Art of Detachment – Essential for “Asperger” Relationships”

  1. I am an NT married 22 years to an undiagnosed (but he agrees) Aspie and when I went to therapy a year ago (before we even suspected – that only happened a few months ago) I specifically asked her to help me not ‘feel’ so much and help me to stop hoping because it was more harmful to me and our relationship. She was unfamiliar with AS and said she couldn’t do that. We then went together but because she treated us an NT-NT relationship it was more harmful and we left after 7 months when I finally clued in she consistently bought into his charm (and who wouldn’t – he’s a great guy, which is why no one understands my issues). He actually apologized last week after reading Maxine Aston’s book, Asperger’s in Love, because he could finally see how I might be feeling, especially in those sessions feeling unheard, and how alone I was in trying to find help and thanked me for working so hard. I am working at self-care and trying to ‘brush off’ his oddities and not take them personally. It’s all the little things that eat away slowly. Not abusive verbally or physically, just a chipping away side effect of me knowing I can’t ever truly please him that hurts so much, even though he would never say that. We are still absolutely in love with each other but have a lot of understanding yet to go!

    1. Thank you Beth. Your story is hopeful. You made it through the unintentional abuse of an ill informed therapist —- and lived to tell about it. You carried on and because you didn’t cave, your husband learned something too. Glad to hear that your love is carrying the day. It’s a very tough life.

    2. I could’ve written this reply. It’s amazing how similar the marriages are. Unfortunately, I have ptsd that’s triggered by abandonment. How we’ve been together for almost 25 years is because of the love. But I’m wearing thin, again, and don’t know how much more I can take. The loneliness is unbearable, unless I stuff my emotions. I’m sorry, I just meant to say how remarkably similar so many comments are to my own situation.

      1. The pattern that startled you is something that I couldn’t understand either. It took awhile for me to understand I wasn’t alone. Then when I began writing about this phenomenon, others began to confirm what they were living with too. But it still amazes me that it took so long to notice the suffering.

  2. I’m so grateful for these posts and the information on this site as while I’m not married to and ASD my friend is on the spectrum, and like those with partners, I find there are times where feel so worn out that I just want to throw it all in. This is despite the fact my friend is such a wonderful human being in so many ways. But like everyone else, it’s the lack of empathy that I struggle with and during those long periods where there is no contact I feel so lonely and isolated, a problem made worse by the fact that a smallest acknowledgement from him that it’s tough for me too, would change everything. However this never comes and instead I wait for the next time for him to surface, when he’s ready to talk, when naturally I drop everything to help him, which I’m slowly beginning to realise is not healthy for me at all.

    1. Yes, it is detachment that frees us from codependency, or running to take are care of the relationship, when we get so little back. Detachment doesn’t mean you stop loving your ASD partner. It just means you getTing your priorities straight. Use your empathic skills to recognize they have Zero Degrees of Empathy (EmD-0), and pace yourself accordingly. It’s a different kind of love isn’t it?

      1. It certainly is a different kind of love. I am grateful to be able to read this. I had/have reached rock bottom. Reading that my ASD husband has zero degrees of empathy is both shocking and a relief.
        I wonder how I go on from here. Do I simply ignore his seemingly cruel responses?
        How do I learn to live for me again?
        I feel any confidence I had has been stripped.

        1. I feel the same Janice. We are victim shamed and expected to put up with psychological abuse that is not acceptable anywhere. It is classed as domestic violence, yet a good portion of society expects us to move aside and be subject to this torture ongoing without any appropriate education or responsibly of the perpetrators.
          I’m indieochre hot mail com if anyone wants to reach out and say hi. Or to petition that more be funded by various gov’ts to take actual action against this ongoing ignorance of how much this contributes to domestic violence.

  3. I love that “care for yourself first”. Save yourself first! And I agree whole-heartedly with the idea of forgiving myself first (for negative attachments I got into).
    I once took a class about how our emotions work an as both a student and facilitator I can attest to the success of this process: Feel your negative feelings triggered and entangled with the person, hear yourself state them all the way to the end, claim the damage, do the same back over previous instances triggered by others to the first time, then it’s easy to forgive yourself for all the dependency, feel loved and the support you deserved, then back through all the instances more clearly see with empathy where the experiences of the others led them into this distortion, hear yourself state your new insight and response, forgive them and see them in the new light, practice the new response. That sequence from negative to positive happens more naturally if you gain empathy with yourself first.

  4. Thanks to everyone for sharing. Last year, this group helped me figure out that my 20 year relationship is hopeless. I made the mistake of continuously making excuses for a hopeless man, incapable of bringing the minimum to our relationship. Am thankful that I own my own home, and do not depend on him for money or housing.

  5. I am finally divorcing my husband of 29 years. I suspect he has aspergers. I became so conditioned by his unusual responses to situations that I no longer knew what normal/typical looked like. I have spent my life waiting to truly feel like I mean something to him. I simply feel like an appendage to his life, an observer. Even now a couple of months into the divorce process I long for some acknowledgement that I was worthy of love. He denies any wrong doing and insists that any hurt I feel is because of my own perceptions and because I allow myself to feel hurt. I became someone I didn’t like and after a very dark 2 year depression I have spent 6 years trying to find myself and heal enough to make the decision to leave. It hurts so much because I still love him but after 29 years I am no longer foolish enough to believe things can change.

  6. Finding sites like this is helping me so.much. My relationship is new, just over a year, but i mostly feel sad, lonely, angry, hurt in various measures at things that are said, or, mostly, unsaid. I question myself all the time, constantly try to think of “the right way” to say something so he’ll understand, show empathy, “get it” even though i know there is no “answer”. At any sign of my sadness or tears there is just silence, excrutiating and painful- he has no idea how to comfort, converse, listen and respond. I have blamed myself, i expect too much (?) ..but if i compare this to other relationships i know that’s not true…yet now , after a year of living like this, i need more and more reassurance, im always second guessing, reading between the lines, waiting for a change that will not come. He can be funny, interesting, loving…and so i say to myself it’s worth trying. But i am exhausted.

    1. Hi Jay 9
      I tried for 29 years. I hoped and waited for change. Please don’t waste life looking for something in the wrong place. If you love him and can truly forego any need for reciprocity and a desire to feel valued then go for specialist counselling. If not then save yourself years of heartache and make a new life for yourself.

  7. Amen to all the above comments. I’m currently cycling through yet another bad patch. I go for months ‘looking after me’, going away regularly, plenty of time with friends, social interaction etc. Then our summer holidays intervene, schedules are forgotten, people are unavailable (for good reason, they are away with their spouses) and I get hit full force with what a strange world I live in with my ASD spouse.
    I’m a ‘leaky bucket’ and I seem never to be able to fill it for long enough to actually feel good. This is plain hard work, I’m tired of being tired.
    Back to meditation in the morning!

    1. You probably aren’t a leaky bucket, but a strong person who takes on more than most people — but eventually crashes, because anyone would. Remember to restore your stamina daily.

  8. I appreciate all your insights Dr Kathy and the comments from everyone. My question is this: what do I do when my attempts at self-care are criticized by my ASH as being selfish, throwing my into a pattern of feeling guilty that prevents me from keeping up with the self-care?

  9. I am so thankful to read these comments to know that I am not alone. It is a very hard and lonely way of relating or in this case non-relating to another person. I go through cycles where he apologizes for his cold and dismissive treatment of me after yet another meltdown. And of course I believe that it will be better. Not anymore. I accept that my husband has a neurological disorder that causes his brain to be wired differently than mine.. That means that there will be no emotional reciprocity or deep connection through conversations or interactions. He will basically think his way through our marriage without much feeling. As our therapist shared with us… my husband has emotions … that are just turned down very low like the volume on a radio. As my husband pointed out to me. “ I have Aspergers and that’s not going to change. You have to decide if you can deal with it? I’m still trying to figure that out.

  10. Tears are just flowing reading all this. I’m 10 years In .. there is not enough space to write everything I need to say. I’m fairly certain his mother has this and his nephew is diagnosed Aspie (sisters son he is 20). Hu husband is 53 … all the charm in the world while dating (although there were subilties I missed, not being familiar with ASD), all gone after marriage and move in and a light switch. He refuses to believe he has it, I have a hole I need filled, there is something wrong with me, I am selfish and I grateful, he doesn’t know what compassion looks like, he’s obsessed with physical fitness and eating right (over weight, coke bottle glasses asthma in school) work and workouts always come first, he has a reason for everything, I have begged for attention and empathy and compassion on my knees – he walks away… not once has he comforted me after an argument, he says I require a “plethora of attention” he could never give me enough, I shouldn’t base everything odd emotion – I could go on and on. I brought up the ASD on time – he said “ you never tell your husband there is something wrong with him” end of discussion and considered divorce after that. We tried counseling – nope cause everything is always twisted to be my fault. I independently went to a therapist I was diagnosed with PTSD, Aniexty and Anger – IVE NEVER HAD ANY ISSUES PRIOR TO THIS MARRIAGE. But he (husband)doesn’t believe that. He’s 53 I am 44. I am his third wife (surprise) he is my second husband. Very routine – I can set my clock by the things he does every night before bed down to rubbing his feet on the rug. All of the sudden he has decided he wants to try to be more empathetic so he wants me to send him a signal if I need held, or comforted he says he can learn (because crying in the bathroom flood isn’t a signal). We recently purchased a beach house 6 hours away and I stay there as much as possible to try to regain some normalcy in my life. He will not come down “just to see me” He actually got 1/2 way here one time and turned around and went back home because it was raining here – so he could do anything. Don’t get me wrong there are things he is very good at and everyone loves him (as stated in a previous comment) I’ve lost friends I’ve had for years over this because I am exhausting them. I am not allowed to even hint of Aspbergers – he owns his own business and works the exact same schedule every day and it’s in an office so he does interact but hates when people want to chit chat instead of getting things done and oh at the end of the day who is the only one he can release all that pent up frustration on – yep me. The only emotion he is willing to show or shows is anger. I am convinced I have Cassandra Syndrome but I could never tell him because then that means he is an Aspie and he refuses to believe that.

    1. Sabrina, you have summed up wonderfully the experience of many in neurodivergent relationships. Maybe “wonderfully” isn’t quite the right description is it? Painful as it sounds, you are spot on. Take care of yourself.

      1. Thanks ! When I read these comments it’s very liberating yet crushing. I am desperate to save my sanity and possibly my marriage but it’s circles .. everything is circles .. I want so badly to join your group but I’m worried he will see the charge on a debit or credit card and lose it ! I am just existing.

  11. I beg to differ the 10 years of conflict are what has caused the fear, fear of being talked down to again and again… I can’t take being treated like that anymore so to protect myself, I avoid those situations AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE! 🙂

  12. What a blessing learning about loving detachment has been!
    I’ve been married to an aspie for nearly 48 years (diagnosed 5 years ago). I was able to cope while working in a very busy career, but I retired 16 months ago, and I’m fading away living with him 24/7. Although he is not abusive at all, it’s like living with a perpetual 12-year-old. We have nothing in common. Watching TV with him is difficult because he cannot follow plot lines. Conversations are almost impossible because he pays no attention to anything outside of his hobby, and I get so very tired of explaining everything as we try to talk. Being around him is so draining and exhausting. I have detached by creating a sacred space for myself…a room with my favorite things. I spend nearly all of my time there. But I am still withering away because of a lack of outside contact. I notice I am beginning to struggle with holding a conversation with others because I am so out of practice. It’s so sad to think this is my life for the next 20 years or so. But I am thankful for my sacred space and my dogs.

  13. Hey Ladies
    I have been in a relationship with my aspie hubby for 4 years. One year ago I moved with him to Europe. New job and new environment.

    Suddenly I realized I had acid reflux. I guess this is really caused by stress mentioned by Kathy. 9 months ago there was so much stress in the relationship I almost detach permanently.

    I knew my husband love me very much but at times he couldn’t control.

    I must say last 4 months we have learnt alot from each other, things improved and we just have to work together. It’s a difficult journey but if there are good progress, still there are still hope.

    Aspie are usually faithful and they just dont express that well.
    Keep my fingers cross and I wish you ladies best of luck! Cheers

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